Exactly one year after the photographer’s father, Behrooz, died, she and her sister went to lay flowers on his grave during Iran’s coronavirus outbreak. They had planned a large memorial ceremony with guests and food, but had to cancel it as the virus wreaked havoc in their country. The cemetery, normally full of people in the time around the Iranian New Year, felt eerie and abandoned. "I tried to think of my father, but there were so many distractions," Newsha Tavakolian wrote in a story about photographing her country in the time of the coronavirus crisis.
Exactly one year after the photographer’s father, Behrooz, died, she and her sister went to lay flowers on his grave during Iran’s coronavirus outbreak. They had planned a large memorial ceremony with guests and food, but had to cancel it as the virus wreaked havoc in their country. The cemetery, normally full of people in the time around the Iranian New Year, felt eerie and abandoned. "I tried to think of my father, but there were so many distractions," Newsha Tavakolian wrote in a story about photographing her country in the time of the coronavirus crisis.
Photograph by Newsha Tavakolian, National Geographic

After a dramatic start to 2020, these photos capture a rapidly changing world

Some of our most extraordinary pictures published so far this year ranged from Mardi Gras to quirky flamingos to getting the perfect tan in Rio de Janeiro. Then the coronavirus hit.

Looking back at the first months of this year, people can perhaps point to the time before and after the pandemic fundamentally changed their lives. Many of our selected images of spring also reflect that divide.

Earlier pictures show community, how we as humans tend to gather for every reason imaginable: to communally preen for the perfect tan on a Rio rooftop, embrace in a dance during Mardi Gras, or commemorate the priceless friendships and freedom of youth in prom photos near the U.S.-Mexico border.

And then suddenly community is a source no longer of joy but of fear. For photographer Newsha Tavakolian in Iran, what should have been a large gathering to mourn the anniversary of her father’s death becomes an eerily quiet exercise with her sister of laying hands on his grave, grief and love pulsing through their plastic gloves. The human need for connection undaunted, but curtailed.

"In Iran, as a custom, we kneel next to the grave. We touch it with one hand while we send a prayer. As I was doing this—touching my father's tombstone, now with gloves—I realized how many things had changed since the day he died," says Tavakolian. "My father was always a positive person. He would often say, ‘This too shall pass.’ At that moment I was hoping he was right.”

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